Approximately 47.2% of adults aged 30 years and older have some form of periodontal disease, or gum disease. However, a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that gum disease and tooth loss are connected to higher risks of early death in women past the age of menopause.
Researchers say older women who have a history of periodontal disease have a 12% higher risk of premature death, while loss of natural teeth presents a 17% higher risk.
The new study, led by Michael J. LaMonte, research associate professor at the University at Buffalo in New York, only shows an association between oral health and premature death; it does not inherently show that gum disease or tooth loss cause early death.
One in 10 people admit they regularly forget to brush their teeth, but the study shows that gum disease and edentulism — tooth loss — are suspected to be related to chronic diseases of aging, including arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, and lung disease, according to LaMonte.
LaMonte and his colleagues analyzed data from the Women’s Health Initiative Program. The program comprised 57,001 total women between the ages of 50 and 79 between 1993 and 1998. The average woman was about 68 years old, and half were either overweight or obese. Six and a half years after enlistment, the data showed 3,589 cardiovascular events, such as a heart attack. In total, 3,816 deaths were recorded.
This data demonstrates that having a history of periodontal disease is associated with a 12% higher risk of early death. The average time people wait for another dental appointment is three years, but no differences were seen between the women who made frequent visits to the dentist and those who did not.
Unlike former studies, however, the new research did not show a direct correlation between gum disease and cardiovascular disease, which LaMonte says “is a very consistent finding with other studies both in middle-aged men and women.”
“The studies that have shown gum disease is related to heart attacks essentially have all been based on a clinical measure of gum disease…a dentist probing around in the mouth,” said LaMonte.
Lenox Hill Hospital cardiologist Dr. Satjit Bhusri said that despite the lack of a direct association, the new research still “suggests gum disease and tooth loss is a marker for overall lack of health and, as a result, death.”
“It is true that older individuals do present with tooth inflammation and tooth loss; but these same individuals also carry an unrelated overall risk of heart disease due to typical cardiovascular disease risk factors,” said Dr. Bhusri.
According to an AACD survey, virtually all adults (99.7%) surveyed believe a healthy smile is socially important. Now, it’s just a matter of getting them to understand that it’s medically important as well.
Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a spokesperson for the American Heart Association and a cardiologist and director at the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center, suggests making more frequent dental visits to monitor for gum disease, in addition to making lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, and smoking cessation.
“Cardiovascular disease is the leading killer of women…Periodontal disease may be an emerging risk factor for heart disease,” said Dr. Goldberg.